MAY 1, 2015--- Teachers and students returned to schools in Sierra Leone on April 14, nine months after the start of the Ebola epidemic in the country, which had claimed 3,877 lives as of last week.
The World Bank Group (WBG) is helping Sierra Leone, along with Guinea and Liberia, reopen schools and get students learning again, while preventing, in the school system, any further spread of Ebola.
Education in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea was hit hard by the Ebola outbreak. Schools were closed for six to eight months at the height of the epidemic, leaving five million children without access to learning.
“I hate Ebola because it stopped my schooling,” Mohamed Mansaray, 12, from Rokupa community said in March. “I miss my teachers and playing with my friends.”
Ten-year-old Yama Bundu added, “I like (learning) math, and I’m not happy that we stopped going to school because of the outbreak.”
Entire families have been devastated by the outbreak, through the loss of life and economic hardship. Households must be quarantined for 21 days when any household member comes into contact with a person who has Ebola. This means that parents or other breadwinners in the family have no income during the quarantine period.
Closure of businesses during the epidemic also left many parents without a steady income. Now, they wonder if they can pay for school fees and supplies to send their children back to school.
Mariatu, an Ebola survivor from Rokupa, lost a husband and seven children to Ebola. Without her husband’s income, she doesn’t know if her surviving daughter, 12-year-old Adama, will be able to continue her studies.
But Adama is optimistic. “I wanted to stay in school. In the end, I’ll be a lawyer and will be in a better position to take care of my mother, if my mother lives to see that day,” she said.
The Government of Sierra Leone announced measures to help with the financial burden on families. This includes waiving standard examination fees and subsidizing secondary school matriculation fees over the next two years.
The WBG is supporting the education sector in Sierra Leone in the Ebola recovery through new grant funds, restructured project funds, and technical assistance amounting to about $8.95 million of pooled resources from the International Development Association, Global Partnership for Education, and United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).
This financing has helped the country procure and distribute over 36,000 hand washing stations (following government specifications), disinfect schools previously used as holding centers and clean all other schools prior to reopening, launch a grassroots social mobilization campaign aimed at parents and communities to help disseminate information about returning to school, and provide school feeding to encouraged the most vulnerable of children to return to school. These efforts, carried out collectively with other partners and led by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, are targeting 9,000 schools, including formal and non-formal institutions.
In addition, the WBG is exploring means of shoring up the medical training field since many medical personnel lost their lives to the epidemic.
Some parents want to be assured that all safety measures are in place before sending their children back to school. However, students like Mohamad and Adama are anxious to become students again.
“I want learn how to be a doctor because I want to treat people,” said Mohamad.
In Liberia, schools started reopening in February 2015. Teachers at Billytown Public School in Montserrado County still take the temperature of students and make sure that they wash their hands before and after they enter the school building.
Every day, they raise awareness of Ebola, telling their students: “When you come to school, do not touch each other and wear your jackets. Don’t share your food and bring your own bottle”.
Karotee W. Washington, Billytown Public School’s principal, is vocal about letting parents know that school is a safe environment. Megaphone in hand, she tells them: “Let the children come to school. They shouldn’t stay home. We have preventative measures for Ebola.”
Because the children were out of school for many months, parents asked Washington for special study classes to help students catch up on lessons after school hours.
With the help of Washington, teachers, parents, and the town chief, the school was able to register 500 students upon school reopening.
In Liberia, WBG support for Ebola recovery in the education sector total $4.2 million. About 15,000 teachers will undergo curriculum refresher training, and 590,000 students will receive new textbooks.
Schools reopened in Guinea in January 2015. Ousmane Sacko, who teaches philosophy at the Groupe Scolaire Woodia Berete Primaire Lycée in Conakry, recounted what it was like seeing his 11th and 12th grade students again.
Everyone was happy to be back in school. “The epidemic traumatized students,” he said, “By staying home for so long, they forgot about what they’ve learned in the past,”
In Guinea, the WBG is assessing the impact of Ebola on learning outcomes through surveys. Ongoing projects, with UNICEF and Agence Française de Développement (AFD), will continue to provide support post-recovery. New grant funds and realigned pooled funds total $4.7 million. These will support activities such as rehabilitating existing latrines and water points in 850 schools, building new water and sanitation infrastructure, communicating about and monitoring health and hygiene in all 6,365 schools, and redesigning training programs to include modules on Ebola and related issues to benefit 12,000 teachers.